Thursday, May 11, 2006

Those Nasty Persecutors

Spotted on Bill Dembski's blog:

[This from a colleague at a major research institution addressed to Michael Behe and me:] I never cease to be amazed, but not surprised, at how blind scientists are to their own prejudices. I have followed your paths of dealing with these prejudices and, as have many others, I have had my share of encounters with intellectual bigots. Within a week of my joining the staff at the SNIP SNIP Research Institute (SSRI) in [jan-dec, 2003-4-5], my removal was called for by a sizable group of the research staff who had discovered (by doing a Google search) that in 2001-2-3 when I was at the SNIP Center, I had signed the Discovery Institute statement questioning Darwin├é’s theory of origins [go here]. The human resource department had the sense to inform the president that they could not fire me for beliefs that did not impact my job as head of SNIP.

Oh, but that's nothing. I happen to know, on good authority, that an ID-skeptic who shall remain unnamed, decided to voice his disagreement with ID in the most congenial manner possible at SNIP College (hereafter, SNIP-C) where he is a professor. He was quickly accosted by dogmatic ID advocates who accused him of being an atheist (a crime punishable by death in most Medieval countries) which makes him no better than Hitler, Stalin, or PZ Myers. Professor SNIP was then taken before the SNIP committee of SNIP-C and then given the SNIP SNIP by president SNIP. After mercy prevailed and the goats were finally called-off, professor SNIP was then subjected to multiple inquiries concerning his theological convictions. These took place repeatedly, during [jan-dec, BC-AD], and in spite of the humiliation of the proceedings and the threat of more livestock, professor SNIP stuck by his beliefs. The inhuman resource department eventually told the president that professor SNIP could not be fired unless he was found guilty of actual heresy, meaning he could only be tortured.

Okay, I'm kidding. Well, sort of. This is a slight exaggeration of something that really did happen. And by "slight", I mean complete and utter horseshit, but it's keeping in the tradition of what Dembski and his fellow travelers do on a regular basis with all of their so-called persecution stories. Which is to say, they take something with a very tiny grain of truth (e.g. person A gave a disapproving look to person B) and then exaggerate the living hell out of it until it becomes what you could only call an irresponsible falsehood (e.g. person A gang-raped person B with the help of several unnamed co-conspirators.) And it helps if every actor in the story remains completely anonymous. That way, you can invent as much as you want out of thin air, and no one can call you on it.

I would have more faith that Dembski's anonymous tear-jerker had some intersection with the truth if not for the fact that their most celebrated case of persecution, that of Richard von Sternberg, turned out to be such an example of gross exaggeration. Nearly everything they said about that case was completely bogus. The only bad thing that happened to Sternberg that we know of for sure is that his colleagues treated him cooly and sent emails to each other gossiping about him behind his back. That is truly unprecedented behavior among coworkers. It's as if they thought they had a right to an opinion.

But perhaps I'm being too glib. There were some pretty nasty things that happened to Sternberg: He had a wholly dishonest and malicious hit-piece published about him in a national newspaper. He also had a frivolous complaint lodged against him with the Office of the Special Council, which being in the control of political extremists who are notorious for neglecting the people they are supposed to protect, chose to open an investigation in spite of having no jurisdiction. And to top it all off, one of Sternberg's coworkers went on a popular cable news talk show to denounce him with the help of a sympathetic and unskeptical host.

Oh wait, did I say Sternberg? My bad, I meant John Coddington, Sternberg's supervisor who was supposedly the ring-leader in Sternberg's inquisition. It was Coddington who had to suffer the above indignities. I'm not sure how I got them confused; maybe I just took the person who was most viciously hounded and attacked throughout this whole sordid episode and figured it had to have been Sternberg. Afterall, the creationists would never dream of persecuting anyone. It just not what you'd expect from their ethos of religious extremism.